Tag Archives: Scooby-Doo

‘The Scooby-Doo Project’ Is Still the Gang’s Strangest Adventure

In 1999, Cartoon Network aired the television special The Scooby-Doo Project as a part of their Scooby-Doo Halloween marathon. An animated/live-action parody of the found footage horror film The Blair Witch Project, the special follows the iconic Mystery Inc. – Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and their talking dog Scooby-Doo – as they document their latest mystery hunting a monster in the woods. Nearly 25 years after its initial release, The Scooby-Doo Project remains one the best and strangest adventures of Scooby-Doo and the teenagers of Mystery Incorporated.

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When the characters of the Hanna-Barbera animated series Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! premiered in 1969, I doubt that creators Joe Ruby and Ken Spears had any idea of the cultural longevity their creation would retain. For the past 55 years, generations of fans have followed the Scooby-Doo gang as they travel around the country to solve mysteries. Through a perfect blend of comedy and cartoon suspense, the franchise lovingly engages with all aspects of the horror genre. Although the franchise reinvents itself every couple of years, much of the iconography remains the same, from the clothes to the catchphrases to the individual quirks of each character. These consistent traits often lend themself to loving parody, sometimes by the creators of Scooby-Doo projects themselves.

The Scooby-Doo franchise has always riffed on horror tropes. The stories and vibes of the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! are in debt to the Universal horror films of the 1930s as well as B-movie creature features that were staples of drive-ins and late-night television. While it feels so strange in retrospect that Cartoon Network would allow the creative team behind The Scooby-Doo Project to create an incredibly faithful parody of a bleak horror film like The Blair Witch Project, they threaded the needle elegantly. The Scooby-Doo Project is a parody that both respects and lampoons its source material, exercising an appropriate amount of meta-humor without sacrificing the core elements of the iconic characters.

Part of the reason The Scooby-Doo Project holds up 25 years after its release is that while the animation is on a budget – you can see character movements reused throughout the special – the special is largely live-action with a shaky handheld camera. The only fully animated characters are Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, Scooby, and the monster, and even then, the animation is used sparingly. Characters turn so their profile is away from the lens or often deliver lines off-camera. The shaky, hand-held aspect also makes the animation feel dynamic, making sure that the audience does not fixate on the animation versus live action. 

The Scooby-Doo Project largely follows the plot points of The Blair Witch Project to a tee. As Fred (Frank Welker), Daphne (Mary Kay Bergman), Shaggy, and Scooby-Doo (both Scott Innes) prepare to investigate a monster in the haunted woods nearby, Velma (B. J. Ward) announces her decision to document the adventure with a handheld digital camera. After interviewing locals about the rumors of a haunting, they leave the Mystery Machine parked on the side of the road and hike into the woods to set up camp. 

Then the special presents the Scooby-Doo version of iconic Blair Witch moments. A stacked pile of rocks that appears overnight turns out to be a pile of Scooby Snacks. Velma loses the map, but instead of learning that someone threw it away, Shaggy reveals he was so hungry that he ate it with Tabasco sauce. The gang hears the sound of monsters outside the tent, only to realize it’s Scrappy-Doo, Scooby-Doo’s annoying nephew – and they still run away because, even then, everyone knew Scrappy-Doo was terrible.

The special also makes sure to include classic hallmarks of the Scooby-Doo franchise. Near the end, the gang enters an abandoned house, turning on a radio and accidentally triggering a Scooby-Doo Doors foot chase with the monster. After the chase, a scared Shaggy is found hiding in the basement corner facing the wall – à la Mike in The Blair Witch Project – but the gang manages to capture the monster, unmasking a random live-action man who clarifies that he had nothing to do with haunting the gang in the woods. He was just in his house, scaring visitors because it was Halloween. The special ends as the gang realizes there is another (real) monster outside the house, and the camera falters, ending the recording. An extended cut reveals that search parties later found the camera and the Mystery Machine but never found traces of the gang.

In 1999, it was a lot easier for certain kinds of media to fall through the cracks and be forgotten. In the era before YouTube and modern social media, The Scooby-Doo Project always had the potential to fall into obscurity. I first learned about the special several years ago via a post on Tumblr, where someone uploaded the image of Shaggy standing in the basement corner. Scooby-Doo has been parodied, referenced, and reimagined in so many authorized and unauthorized ways that I can believe that someone bored with Photoshop has put Shaggy and Scooby in every horror franchise possible. The Scooby-Doo Project never became “lost media” but without reruns and highly publicized re-releases, the Halloween special became a curio, something buried in the mind of the viewers who had seen it as children.

Watching The Scooby-Doo Project now, the comedic tone of the special is boosted by both the cultural footprint and the cultural backlash to The Blair Witch Project. Many parodies of The Blair Witch Project feel like they want to disengage with the source material, almost as if their creators are trying to disregard the original as a marketing stunt gone right. The Scooby-Doo Project recognizes the terror of the original and filters it through Scooby-Doo for an all-ages audience.

At the time, The Scooby-Doo Project was well-reviewed and even won an Annie Award for Outstanding Animated Special Project in 2000. In 2022, Cartoon Network uploaded an abridged version of the special to their official YouTube channel, but you can also find unofficial uploads of the complete extended version with relative ease. Even if you are not a huge Scooby-Doo fan, I highly recommend giving The Scooby-Doo Project a watch. The writing is exquisite, the voice actors are giving top-notch performances, and the animation/live-action is inventive and compelling – especially considering the time and budget constraints.

‘Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School’ Was Universal Monsters 101

Since 1969, Hanna-Barbera’s many versions of Scooby-Doo have served as kid-friendly gateway horror. Through episodes playing via syndication, reruns, and reboots, a sleuthy, snacky dog exposed young audiences to a variety of celebrities from decades prior including The Three Stooges, Sonny & Cher, and Dick Van Dyke. But between all the countless guest stars and crossovers, the animated young ladies who attended Miss Grimwood’s Finishing School for Girls in 1988’s Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School hold the honor of introducing the most iconic monsters in horror to a generation of adolescent girls. 

Miss Grimwood’s Finishing School for Girls is not the first or last time Scooby and the (pared down) gang interact with real monsters. The 1985 series The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo developed the formula of members of the Scooby crew dealing with actual ghosts. This kicked off Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers, Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf, and Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School, a trilogy of “real” creature made-for-television features. Ghoul School writer Glenn Leopold was involved in several “Scooby plus real monster” projects and penned the 1998 direct-to-video Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island that kicked off another wave of Scooby-Doo films a decade after Ghoul School

(Leopold also wrote songs for Scooby-Doo including “Terror Time” and tracks for fictional female eco-goth rock band The Hex Girls. The man is a legend, but let’s get back to the ghouls!)

Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School wastes no time introducing the original #GhoulGang. Scooby, Shaggy, and Scrappy-Doo meet Sibella, Dracula’s daughter; Winnie, The Wolfman’s daughter; Phantasma, The Phantom’s daughter; Tanis, The Mummy’s daughter; and Elsa Frankensteen, the daughter of Frankenstein’s Monster with a vowel change. The Scooby crew never meet any mommies—only mummies—but Elsa rocks the same iconic hairstyle as The Bride, so educated horror viewers can assume her lineage.

While Elsa’s hair is an undeniable reference to classic monster imagery, the other ghoul girls’ appearances favor an ‘80s aesthetic. Winnie might be a wolf girl, but she also resembles “Annie” with her orange, curly hair. Phantasma is an intangible phantom portrayed in baby blue hues, but she’s on trend for the era with her Pat Benatar pixie haircut, belted dress, and booties. Sibella is quite fashionable with her flowing purple gown, feathered lavender hair, blue eyeshadow, and hot pink lipstick. Tanis is the most simplistic out of the girly monster makeovers with blue eyes, eyelashes, and a big pink bow on her head. That being said, the ghoul girls are presented in a feminine way that avoids painting them all shades of gender stereotypical pink and still feels fresh for young audiences today. 

The sweet appeal of the mini monsters in Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School is not limited to pastels, makeup, and hair bows; their personalities go against the traditional reputation of scary monsters. Upon meeting Miss Grimwood, her pet dragon Matches, and her disembodied hand helper, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo are terrified at the thought of encountering the girls Shaggy has agreed to coach for an upcoming volleyball tournament. Thankfully, Scrappy-Doo acts as an emotional guide, reassuring that the girls are nothing to fear—and Scrappy is quickly proven right! The ghoul girls are warm, welcoming, and share a common goal—to win the tournament and bring back a trophy to show their parents.

The ghouls participate in activities non-monster girls can somewhat relate to. They encourage each other during volleyball training, practice ballet, and share pizza with spider, snail, and tadpole tail toppings. They’re also heroes who rescue not only their rivals—the boy cadets from Calloway Military School—from the greatest known threat in cartoon history (quicksand, duh). In true Scooby-Doo fashion, the girls end up rescuing Shaggy and Scooby-Doo after the duo’s failed attempt to save the ghouls from the evil clutches of spider-witch Revolta. The ghoul girls may be monsters, but they are also brave little ladies who should be respected instead of feared. 

The Halloween open house halfway through Ghoul School finally introduces all those famous monster daddies; Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman, The Phantom, and Frankenstein’s Monster. Notably, this crossover is only a few years before the Universal Classic Monsters were unleashed on home video in the 1990s—but Scooby-Doo syndication on television was a far more accessible creature sighting for appropriate audiences at the height of Saturday morning cartoons. The monster daddies lean “traditional monster” in design next to their daughters with slightly muted and natural color palettes, but they still hold a softer touch. 

Right off the bat (transformation), the first moment with these fearsome fathers is Dracula using his cape to shield The Mummy from the rain since his wraps are not waterproof and it sets the tone—these monsters are different. Although Shaggy and Scooby resort back to cowering in fear before the horror titans, all of the fathers are more excited to hug than hurt the pair. Their only scare tactics are vague “take care of my daughter or else” threats to Shaggy and Scooby as each dad heads out the door; this speaks to a more “Universal Dad Move” than Universal Classic Monster. While the ghoul children are developed to appeal to coming-of-age girls, their relationships with their fathers and the affection shared amongst monsters leaves an equally lasting impression. 

In stark contrast to the classic monster parents and groovy daughters, Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School villains Revolta and Grim Creeper lack any clear references in horror film history. Revolta’s character design falls somewhere between arachnid and witch while the Grim Creeper resembles an overgrown potato with tentacles. Revolta plans to use mind-control on the ghoul girls and overpower their famous fathers because she’s disgusted the classic monsters have “grown soft” in fatherdom. That said, her storyline is rushed and she is ultimately forgotten in a movie dedicated to legendary horror icons and their revolutionary daughters. 

While not every classic monster is featured throughout the film, Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School squeezes in a few more monster cameos before the credits roll. During the final celebration, Miss Grimwood introduces Shaggy to new arrivals; the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s daughter, Godzilla’s daughter, and an alien’s daughter. Shaggy and Scooby forget everything they have learned from the girls at this precise moment, make a mad dash to the Mystery Machine, and drive away from the ghoul school. I guess a kaiju wearing a pink bow is where Scooby-Doo draws the line? 

Not only was Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School ahead of the Universal Classic Monster home video line by a few years, but the animated feature was ahead of its time in adapting traditional monsters for kid audiences. Hanna-Barbera paved the way for horror franchises designed with young girls in mind. The film not only conjures a new generation of monsters young girls can identify with, but portrays the classic monsters as kind, loving father figures children can celebrate. Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School taking the time and care to create monster role models for girls to call their own is—in the timeless words of Dracula’s daughter—Fangtastic!

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